This was one of the days that Balgus would describe Folken as "distracted." This was a very generous term for Balgus, in Folken's opinion. This was when Folken would keep himself in the library for hours at a time, neglecting duties and war-practice, immersing himself in books. While Balgus was not against the enrichment of the mind by reading books, he sometimes questioned the prince's dedication and concentration, whether he really wanted to become king or not.
Folken never told anyone other than Eries, but he found combatant practice tiring and taxing not only on his body, but on his mind. He appreciated it, yes, but never excelled in it, which frustrated him. And when things frustrated him his practice would be to withdraw from everyone and everything, taking up books in the library instead. It was the days when he missed Eries, when he felt like no one could understand why he would prefer reading instead of swordplay. She knew, and she would understand, undoubtedly.
He missed her.
Her last letter arrived two days ago, and while she only mentioned the illness of her mentor in passing, he could still sense the sadness permeating every word, even those not connected with the unhappy event. He knew enough of Eries to see what she was trying not to say in what she was saying, and in letter-writing even more so. Allen, it seemed, was occupying her worries most of all.
He remembered the last day that he saw her, at the port with his family. Van was clinging onto her, begging her to stay, and Varie coming forward and embracing her, making Eries cry, as well as Varie herself. All of the samurai came to see her off, and Balgus looked sad when Eries bode him farewell.
Minister Revin of Asturia came to accompany the princess home, and he had also brought gifts from Asturia in the form of silks, jewelry, art and cunning devices that Eries presented to all the dignitaries present. When it came to Folken she presented him with a simple locket with the emblem of Asturia, and when he opened it, there was a lock of her hair tucked within it.
They could only stay for a day, and he had not seen her since then, but it was all fresh on Folken's mind like it were yesterday.
With a sigh, he turned back to his books.
Eries was awakened with the sound of a loud pounding. She sat up, alarmed, casting a quick look on Encia's sleeping form. It was only a little after sunset, she thought to herself. What could possibly be going on?
She hurried to the hallway, where she was met with a pale-faced nurse, wringing her hands. "He's gone mad!" the nurse cried. "He's turning the house upside-down, throwing books around! I don't know what's wrong with him. We've tried talking to him, but…"
Without bothering to hear the rest of it, Eries hurried on to the library, where the sound of crashing glass and heavy books being thrown about was intensified. The other nurse was huddling just beside the doorway, looking at Eries with frightened eyes. Her lips pressed together tightly, Eries entered the room.
The usually neat-looking library looked as if a hurricane had laid it to waste. Cabinets were thrown open, books lay scattered on the floor, looking trampled on, papers were strewn about and ripped apart, and the painting of Allen's father lay on the floor, half-burnt. Allen himself stood in one corner of the room, facing a stack of books, taking each one and feverishly flipping through it, before yelling in anger and throwing it on the floor alongside with the others.
"He should have something! He should have SOMETHING!" he hollered, throwing another book, narrowly missing Eries' feet. He was about to throw another book out of the window but Eries came forward and stopped his arms.
"Allen! Stop this madness!" she shouted, fighting back her fear at the crazed look in his eyes. He resisted, but she held on firmly. "Your mother is sleeping, for heaven's sake." She said, trying to calm him. "If you insist on continuing this, I will not allow you to be in with the same house with her."
It worked. Allen's arm relaxed, and his face crumpled before he sank to his knees. "That damn bastard…" he began sobbing brokenly.
Eries looked at the doorway to see the two nurses looking in. "Leave us." She said sternly, causing them to jump, curtsy abruptly and scurry away. "Allen…" she said, softly now. "What is it?"
Allen suddenly jumped up, his face distorted with anger. "All his BOOKS! All his KNOWLEDGE!" he yelled, sweeping his arm to send another stack of books tumbling to the floor. "All for WHAT? NOTHING! None of this can even save my mother! He can't even do that for us!"
"Allen. Stop this." Eries said sternly, trying not to look at the half-burnt painting that lay on the floor, one unburnt eye still staring to her. "I have employed all the best doctors from all over Gaea to help your mother. If you are looking for answers…it is not in this room, and certainly not in the destruction of this room. Doing this will do nothing, for you or for her."
"Can't you see what he's done to all of us?" he said quietly. "He's made a fool of all of us, made a mockery of those lost and dying." He spat bitterly, whirling about to face her. "You can't possibly understand."
Something in Eries' eyes tightened, and Allen could see her clench her jaw. Yet when she spoke, her voice was unruffled. "Oh? That shows how much you know, Allen Schezar." She stood up, calmly brushing her dress. "I will leave the two nurses. Please restrain yourself from throwing tantrums until then."
He knew then that he had hurt and disappointed her, but he could not find anything to say. As she left the room, without even looking at him, which was the first time he saw her coldness. And underneath his shame, he couldn't understand why he felt this ominous sign.
Folken's eyes snapped open. He was surprised to see that it was already dark outside. Balgus stood at the entrance of the meditation room, illuminated by the torches.
"Forgive me for intruding in your meditation, Folken." He said, before settling in front of the young man. "I have come to bid farewell."
That piece of news struck Folken with surprise. "What? So soon? I thought not until another moon, Balgus."
Balgus shook his head heavily and sighed. "There cannot be any more delay."
Folken smiled and nodded. "I understand."
The future king and the swordsmaster sat side by side in silence, until Balgus spoke again. "I hear that the Princess Eries will soon be arriving with her family."
"Her sisters. Her father cannot come." Folken corrected him, fixing his eyes on the banner of Fanelia that hung in front of them. Balgus laughed, a low rumble in his belly.
"Cannot come, eh? Too fat to move from his throne, no doubt." He scoffed.
"Master Balgus." Folken said warningly, although he felt little authority over Balgus, even if his tone suggested so. "It is a great honor to have the princesses of Asturia to visit Fanelia's lands."
"I regret not to be able to see Princess Eries again." Balgus mused, crossing his arms. "Yet you do know the implication of this, do you not?" When Folken did not answer, Balgus went on: "You are coming of age. Great things are expected of you, Prince Folken."
"In slaying and warfare, no doubt." Balgus could not miss the bitterness in Folken's voice.
"Young Master, you should know better that this is not all that the legacy of Fanelia is." Balgus said, looking sternly at him. "You do not learn this because you refuse to embrace it. You cannot be a swordsmaster without embracing the way of the sword."
And so he had heard. From all the samurai, all who advised his father that he was not yet ready for kingship. Because he believed differently from carving out a future with blood and swords, symbolized by the Rite of Dragonslaying. Folken knew the rumors—that Eries had somehow "softened" him, that his mother's blood had tainted the blood of his father's ancestors, and that he was too much of a philosopher to be a true warrior.
He swore that he would prove them all wrong, that there could be a future of advancement and peace without the need for wars and slaying.
"There is still time." Balgus said, breaking Folken's reverie. He stood up, putting a hand on the prince's shoulder. "I will come back two years hence, and I will continue to train you until you are ready for the Rite of Dragonslaying."
Folken nodded and smiled. "Safe voyage, Master Balgus."
He waited until Balgus' footsteps became faint and disappeared altogether before he left the meditation room. He then stood up and walked out of the meditation room, half-running along the hallways to a small room at the end of the hall which was previously used as a small armory. Now the armor there had been moved out and was left empty until Folken found it, and renovated it, slowly and secretly, for his own use.
He lit a candle and laid it on a table, its small flame illuminating the room. He then took out the necklace that Eries had given him, hanging around his neck, and opened it. Glimmering even in the faint light, he studied the lock of her hair with a small smile on his face before standing up to walk to a small container that had been left on the small windowsill by the table.
He then blew the candle out and looked eagerly into the container. There, inside, the substance that he had created that morning was glowing. His theory had been correct, and it had been able to capture the sun's rays and retain them. All he had to do now was to ascertain which combination of chemicals would be most effective in retaining and maximizing the captured light.
He took out a notebook hidden in his tunic and with the light from his created substance, he began jotting down notes.
Allen didn't know what to say to her.
She had been quiet and unresponding to him since that night, although she showed no hint of resentment or anger over his words. It was quite possible that she wasn't even angry anymore, knowing Eries' nature, yet Allen still felt repentant over his infantile behavior.
Whenever he would begin, Eries would interrupt him with, "There are other more important things to do," before telling him the chores that needed to be done around the house. The nurses were too scared of him to even pass him by the hallways. Eries also did not tell him any news about the search for Celena, and so he had to wait for his mother to be awake so that he would hear Eries tell Encia about it. Every now and then he felt annoyed and resentful of Eries' silence to him, but he also realized how much his family had come to depend on her support, and for the first time, he saw her as a figure of power, someone who could easily take away everything she had given them, although he was sure she was not so heartless as to do just that. He then tried to be as unobtrusive to her as much as possible.
It was only several days later, when he found her sitting in the sun-room, his mother's favorite place in the house, where she also tutored Eries, did he find her. She was sifting through some books, one hand resting on a notebook, looking deeply absorbed. He recognized the books as his father's books on medicinal herbs. For a split second Allen almost thought that it was his mother sitting there, although with the slight movement of her head, Eries' golden hair showed him otherwise.
After several moments of silence, it was Eries who finally spoke. "Well? Have you given up on your childishness or shall I start looking for medicine for tantrums for you?"
"I've come here to apologize." He began, stepping inside the room. She stopped in her activities, looked up at him, saying nothing, before going back to the books.
"Are you really?" Eries said quietly, as Allen sat down beside her. She sighed heavily and turned to him, all barriers down now. "I know you are angry, Allen, but you must understand that it is not the right time to feel this, not when your mother is in such a state."
He nodded slightly. "Yet there is no excuse for what I said."
"There is none." She agreed curtly. She nodded to the books that were on the table. "Those are the books that you nearly destroyed the other day. Some are actually very helpful. We could do much more work if you help me."
Obediently, Allen took one of the books and began sifting through it as well. "What your problem is," Eries said after a while, "Is that you do not recognize it what is right in front of you, so busy were you with your more immediate feelings."
"Look, Van!" Folken said happily as he held up his newest creation, as the two brothers sat in the gardens after sunset. "It's—ah—it's—" he realized he hadn't given it a name yet.
"Firefly! Firefly!" Van yelled excitedly as he took the rock from Folken's hands, and rolling it on the grass, before chasing after it.
"Yes, a firefly. A rather large one, at that." He laughed, watching his brother. "Don't go too far, Van!" he yelled, smiling as he settled back.
"A new creation, I see." Varie said, as she sat down beside her eldest son, watching Van play in the dusk. Folken nodded, absently toying with the pendant around his neck. "A child's plaything for now, but it can help so many people in the future." She mused. Varie looked up to the Mystic Moon, and something in her eyes deepened and turned old, as if recalling an ancient memory. "The city of the Draconians used to be illuminated with such a stone…Its first triumph, among many, and so it was forgotten, taken for granted." And as quickly as it appeared, it was gone, the light from her eyes, and she seemed to be shaking herself from the trance, transforming once again into someone familiar. "The knowledge of the Draconians may not be entirely lost, my son." She said quietly.
"It will cause lesser fires in the households, surely." He joked uneasily, not really wanting to think himself as an heir of the lost knowledge of the Draconians. "But you are right, Mother. I will try to see if we can produce this in greater quantities, help more of our townspeople with the light." He rarely heard his mother speak of her people, the Draconians, and when she did, something about it unnerved him, like an old unspoken terror that he only vaguely remembered.
"It is better, perhaps, to make sure whether it is a stable substance before producing any more." Varie advised. "It is a triumph, but you must be able to learn that this is just the beginning."
"Yes, Mother." Folken valued his mother's opinions above most people.
"At least your little brother seems to be enjoying it." Varie smiled as Van held up the "firefly" to illuminate a hiding squirrel, which scurried away, making him laugh.
"It will be able to distract him, at least for a while. It is good for something, after all." Folken grinned as Van ambled up and fell into his mother's lap. "Now I can't take it away from him, or he will cry."
"And you don't like Van crying." Varie observed.
"It is very noisy." Folken agreed. Varie merely smiled, and shook her head at Folken's subtle denial.
"Have you received any letters from Eries lately?" she asked, as Van ran off again. The Mystic Moon was rising in the eastern sky, now. Folken nodded.
"A few days ago." He said, not elaborating. Varie cast him a sideways look.
"You miss her." She said simply.
"It's…different." He replied, neither agreeing nor disagreeing. "I wonder what she is like, now. It's been countless moons since I last saw her."
"I have always thought the two you are very alike… already fixed in character at a very young age." Varie remarked, reaching out and ruffling Folken's hair. "Oh my son," she sighed as she hugged him. "Sometimes I wonder if we had forced you to grow up too quickly. You do not know how much this worries me and your father."
"Father?" Folken said in surprise, drawing back a little to look at his mother full in the face. "Father worries about that?"
Varie laughed. "You do not have to look so surprised, Folken. Of course he does. He is still your father, and he loves you. When he returns, you have much to talk about. You must listen to him, Folken, and to all the samurai. You will be the one living after them, carrying their wisdom."
Folken snatched up some of the grass under his feet, frowning. "What wisdom can there be in songs of slaying? Mother…" he looked up at her, "All this is based on honor, but it is still, at its core, based on the tenet of war, be it honorable or otherwise. But how can that be? War is war, and dead men are all the same."
"And so we are. But you must remember." She took his hand and pointed it to the Mystic Moon. "Our world, our Fanelia, was created when a world tore itself apart. It was an ocean of lava and fire, an endless rain of ashes, where only shadow dwelt. From its burnt heart was Gaea created, yet it was beyond anyone's dreaming, even those of the oldest and wisest, that light would come again here, that life would breathe again. The Mystic Moon is the image of the old world, always reminding us, that in our striving to perfect ourselves, destruction is always a key element."
And in a moment, Folken saw the burning White Temple, the jets of flame burning angels in the sky, the screaming that was drowned out by the collapse of the structures of ivory stone. He wanted to scream, but suddenly the land was covered in darkness. He felt a hand on his cheek, a shimmer of light.
"Awaken." He heard his mother's voice say. He gave a start, and saw a light die in her eyes, but perhaps that could be from the flickering of the stone of his creation, still in Van's hands. When she spoke, her voice rang out in the cold night: "Come, let us go back inside, for it has become too dark."
Eries knew that there was something wrong as she sat herself across Marlene, who was looking at her with worried eyes, hands twisting on her lap. Before she could quietly ask what was wrong, their father, King Grava Aston, had already walked in the dining hall and was already being seated at the head of the table. He cracked his knuckles as soup was ladled into their elaborately gilded porcelain bowls, a habit that Eries particularly disliked.
He spent no time going about it, either. It was one of those times that Eries was glad that the dining hall was enormous, so as the servants, who lined the edges of the hall, could not hear of the conversation taking place at the table. But if Eries were to choose, she would choose no conversation at all. "Eries," her father began, picking up a golden spoon that reflected the lights from the glittering candelabras from above. "We missed you at the opening of Council today."
Eries and Marlene exchanged a look, and Eries was glad that she and her sister had somehow perfected this wordless communication without their father ever noticing, which was no easy feat to do. While Grava Aston could be accused of many things, acting like a fool was not one of them. He was conniving and sharp in everything he said and did, and that included his daughters. Especially his daughters.
By Marlene's look it was clear to Eries that her trips to the family Schezar was now a thinly-veiled secret, if it could be called a secret at all at this point.
"It is unlike you to miss such an important event. Were you not just appointed a Councilor, yourself? The youngest in the history of Asturia, might I add." His voice was light and nonchalant, but there was no missing the steeliness underneath it. It was unheard of, in fact, of a princess thirteen years of age to be appointed as member of the King's Council. While she may have had all the necessary requirements, the strings that were pulled to make it possible were still all of her father's influence. She knew how angry he was, for not showing up after all he did to make such a position for her open. "We should not take such things lightly, my dear." He went on, taking a sip of vino from his goblet. "It does not make a good first impression. Many of your peers were looking for you."
"My apologies, Father." She made a small nod to his direction. "I was…"
"I never did inquire about the charity work that you have been so engrossed in, did I?" he cut in through his daughter's apology. "What kind of charity is it? Is it visible? Is it public? That is the only real value of those charities, are they not?"
"Father!" Marlene admonished, scandalized.
Eries said nothing, and nothing could be read on her undisturbed expression. Yet on her right hand, her knuckles were white from gripping her glass so tightly. Her father did not miss it.
"The family Schezar has fallen out of the favor and the good graces of the Court." He was now on the point. His voice was still calm, but now the hardness was more pronounced. The next course was brought on the table, but Eries hardly noticed. In fact, only their father seemed to be the only one enjoying his meal. "They are disgraced, ruined."
When he saw Eries turn her head away at these harsh words, he went on, softening his tone marginally. "My dear, I know that you greatly esteem Lady Schezar, and she was your mother's dearest friend, but she is a ruined woman, for marrying such a man." He scoffed, as if the very thought of mentioning the name of Allen's father brought a bad taste in his mouth. "But you owe them nothing. She was your tutor, and she was compensated for it. Further fraternization with this family will only drag you down along with them."
"What is the Court so afraid of?" Eries looked up when she heard Marlene speak. Marlene's eyes were flashing angrily as she spoke: "An impoverished, dying woman and thirteen-year-old boy? Have they become so idle as not they are not anymore able to think of more important matters?"
"Marlene!" Eries said warningly. "Father," she interjected, before King Aston could say anything. Marlene fixed her eyes on her younger sister, as if coaxing her to defy their father. "I apologize." She said, and she saw Marlene's eyes widen in disbelief. "I was not aware of the Schezars have such a lowered position in Society. But you must understand," at this last word she turned her eyes to Marlene, pleading her to keep silent. "That Lady Schezar has been there for our mother when she was dying, and she has been like a mother to all three of us. This is the gratitude that I wish to repay on behalf of us all."
King Aston studied his second daughter intently, as if digesting the information. Then she sensed his disgruntlement deflate as he cracked his knuckles again. "Alright." He nodded. "Only on the condition that these visits will desist regardless of the outcome of her ailment, and that you will now make yourself visible to all members of Court. Understood?"
"Yes, father." Eries nodded. She could feel Marlene's gaze of disapproval on her but chose to ignore it, choosing instead to pick up her fork and digging it into a piece of fruit.
"Sometimes I do not know whether I should admire you or scold you." Marlene said, tying up Eries' plait with a blue ribbon. They were sitting in Marlene's room, as was their nightly ritual of plaiting each other's hair. It is only this time when they were not bothered by maidservants or guards of any shape, size or form. "It is impossible to tell whether you are the one placating Father, or you are the one being placated."
"It is simply the trick of politics and gentlemen." Eries said quietly, as she leaned against her elder sister. "Sometimes, you have to say things in a different way to get the outcome you want."
"It seems so horrible and manipulative." Marlene mused. "I still cannot believe how well you have grasped this sort of deception, you being so young."
"It is horrible. Especially what happened during dinner." Eries agreed. She looked at her pale mirror image, slightly surprised to see how calm she appeared, even though her mind was still full of her father's reproaches. "I don't know why I can do it so easily. What would mother say?"
The two were silent after Eries said this, thoughts now turning to a sweet, pale memory of a laughing face and a soft touch. Marlene smiled sadly and rubbed Eries' nose slightly. "Cheer up. You know you look more like Mother when you smile." While many people might think that their mother looked like Marlene and Millerna, it was actually Eries who looked more like her, which also explained her slight resemblance to Encia. Encia Schezar and Therese Aston were cousins, and great friends.
"Sometimes, I wish…" Marlene sighed, walking to the windows that opened up to the sky. "That we could find freedom, away from this place, and other places that tie us down! I wish Millerna would not have to endure this."
"It is the laws of Asturia, and they place no high value on women, even on princesses." Eries remarked bitterly.
"Maybe someday, you can make this happen." Marlene said, suddenly turning to her younger sister with a smile. "Save Millerna's daughters, our nieces, from such a fate. You know that Father will engage her to a man without a kingdom, but with money. Such a man will have no strong hold on tradition, and amendments to the law can be made when he is made king."
"But Marlene, you forget the Court and the Ministry, and the rest of Society as well." Eries could not help but smile at Marlene's rather fanciful idea. "And besides, we will no longer be of Asturia at that time!" it was quite hard to imagine Millerna married to anyone, truth be told.
"Ah, but you have the trump card." Marlene leaned over and tapped the tip of Eries' nose with her index finger. "Mother's ocean eyes and…" here she broke into a grin. "Politics."
Eries laughed and Marlene sat back on the bed. "Still," Marlene said wistfully. "I would still prefer if we could find a country far, far, away, were there were no rules to hold us back."
"Ah, but my dear Marlene, where is this country? Does it have a name?"
Author's Notes: Chapter Four was originally going to be er, longer, but I think I have to split it in two now, to make way to introduce other characters that we were only allowed a glimpse of in the anime.
If you would notice, the last line where Eries asks Marlene, "Where is this country? Does it have a name?" is derived from Edith Wharton's book, "The Age of Innocence." Just a little tidbit, haha.
Just a big THANK YOU to everyone who took time to read and review, because God knows I don't have enough patience to write long, meaningful and insightful reviews myself. I'm more of a "Good job!" in the reviewer category. But, yeah, the long reviews are good! Keep them coming! I love them.
As for the language, well, yeah, I did it consciously, because I thought that a more contemporary language somehow didn't fit into the whole setting of Gaea. I tried, but I can't, except if it's Hitomi talking, I guess. As for the timeline—yeah, well, er, I know. It's been three years and I really don't know what I was thinking (or if I was building something up around it that I forgot). I'll probably revise the rough spots once the story is done.
So. My author's note is DONE! Til next time.